From a Local: The Complete Guide to NYC's Subway System

How to get where your going without ruining everyone's day

New York City is home to the most extensive mass transit system in the world, with 472 subway stations currently operating.

It's also among the oldest and the busiest, which comes with some downsides that visitors may not anticipate. Still, if you want an authentic experience of the city, you cannot confine yourself to Lyft cars, tour buses, and hansom cabs. Your visit is not complete until you have ventured into the fetid nethers of New York's subway tunnels. With this guide, you should survive your excursion with no (visible) trauma.

The Basics


Flickr user paulmmay

When visiting New York, you can use the subway to ride to and from all four boroughs—Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, and not Staten Island (it's not a real borough, so you have to take the ferry). You can cross the Manhattan Bridge on the B, D, N, or Q trains to get a spectacular view of the skyline, or take more than a dozen lines for an ear-popping ride under the Hudson river. Google Maps will tell you how to get around (as long as there aren't any of the frequent service issues...) and hopefully help you figure out if you need a local train that stops at every station or an express train that goes to only the busiest stops. Subway maps are usually posted in train cars and on the platforms, and if you need it, there's even cell service in the stations now.

If you're lucky, you might also end up in one of the updated stations that provide semi-reliable train arrival times, and you might get to ride one of the modern trains with futuristic features like audible station announcements—the upgrades are wildly inconsistent, and there are still trains from the 1960s operating. But to ride the subway at all (without being tackled by overzealous cops), the first thing you're going to need is a MetroCard. It's a flimsy bit of yellow plastic with a magnetic strip, sold out of machines in every subway station. It will cost you $1 a pop, plus whatever amount you want to spend on trips—one trip currently costs $2.75, but that price seems to go up every 12 hours or so.

If you're planning to use it extensively, you might want to make your card unlimited, which will run you $33 for a week, or $127 for a month. Otherwise, you can put as much money as you think you'll use and refill it as needed using the same machine that dispenses them. If you only have the stomach to take a single trip, you can buy a single ride card for $3. And if the machine is too daunting (or a line of locals forms while you're trying to figure it out), many bodegas—AKA "delis"—also sell MetroCards.

One of the beauties of these MetroCards is that they also work with a number of other modes of transport, including the PATH trains to New Jersey, the tram to Roosevelt Island, the AirTrain to JFK. Most importantly, a swipe includes a two-hour window for a free transfer to or from a standard NYC bus, so you really can get just about anywhere with one swipe (though obviously not Staten Island, the non-borough).

The Buskers

What's even more impressive is the amount you can do without having to leave the subway system. Along with the variety of stores, restaurants, florists, and newsstands, there is enough public art to fill a dozen galleries and a thriving live music scene. Unlike the carts full of churros—one for a dollar, three for two—New York's buskers are legally allowed to share their talents without a license in subway stations and on the platform, and a great many of them are immensely talented. The larger and busier stations are particularly solid venues. The mariachi bands, barbershop singers, and dance crews who roam the trains themselves are somewhat less sanctioned. You don't have to throw them a dollar if you don't feel like it, but there's no need to be a narc about it.

The Smell

Subway spa

Improv Everywhere

There's a common misconception that the entire NYC subway system smells of stale urine. This is far from the case. Each station has its own smell—from musty basement to stagnant puddle water to sulfuric stalactites dripping from the ceiling. There are even open-air stations that smell of trees, diesel fumes, and putrefying garbage juice. Mixed in with these smells, there is often a healthy dose of stale urine, but it is hardly the sole, or even the predominant, scent.

That said, if a crowded train rolls into the station with one empty car, an overpowering stench is the best possible outcome of stepping into that car. Like most of the US, New York does not provide adequate housing for people with mental illnesses, drug addictions, or just nowhere else to go. Unlike most of the US, rent in New York costs more than the black market value of your organs, so there are a lot of homeless people who end up living their lives in the subway system, and sometimes making it smell terrible. So just choose another car.


Subway etiquette

This is the most important part of using the subway. New Yorkers have a reputation for being rude, but that's not entirely accurate. The reality is that New Yorkers are shockingly considerate of one another. With some notable exceptions, most of us do our best not to inconvenience or inflict stress on any of the thousands of strangers we encounter in a given day, and we often have little patience for people who don't make the same effort. Our apparent indifference to the world around us can come across as cold, but we ignore one another as a courtesy—living so much of your life surrounded by strangers is a lot less stressful with the assurance that you aren't constantly being observed and scrutinized. It provides a form of privacy and solitude, even in public.

So if you need some help navigating the subway, don't let the lack of eye contact dissuade you from asking for help. If we have the time to help, most of us will. But please understand that your tourism playground exists in the same place where we're trying to go about our daily lives. Our version of road rage is giving a nasty look to a slow tourist, so please do your best not to inconvenience us. That means letting people off the train before you try to get on, not taking up more room than you absolutely have to, and being aware of the people around you when they're trying to move through the confined space of a train car or a subway platform.

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La Rojeña

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Casa Sauza

Founded in 1873, Casa Sauza offers four levels of tours including a visit to the La Perseverancia distillery, a visit to the Quinta Sauza estate, and for those willing to spend more, barrel tastings and a barbeque or a three-course meal. Casa Sauza is on hiatus until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, but should go on the distillery tour bucket list.

La Cofradia

The only tequila distillery with a hotel inside, La Cofradia offers many experiences in addition to distillery tours. Choose a hike through natural trails, biking, or horseback riding through the agave fields. Rooms made of giant tequila barrels sit among the agave plants for a unique stay. Visiting La Cofradia is sure to be a tour that thrills tequila lovers. Contact the hotel directly for information about lockdown closures.

A distillery tour offers education about tequila's history and manufacture. Bone up on your tequila terms and tips for choosing quality tequila before you go, so you'll understand what you're tasting.

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To celebrate the arrival of the coldest season, we decided to highlight some of our favorite (and heartiest) recipes from HelloFresh that are perfect for the Holiday season. Here are five wholesome and balanced meals that will warm you up in no time.

Veggie Loaded Kale & Risoni Soup

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Cheesy Red Pesto Chicken Melts

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Winter Risotto

Risotto is a great winter warmer. It's packed full of veggies so your body will light up like fire, but it's also silky, sumptuous and a real crowd pleaser. HelloFresh's Winter Risotto features a heart helping of kale that pairs perfectly with nutty Parmesan and crunchy walnuts for a robust taste. Did we mention that it also comes with fennel seeds sprinkled throughout? This unique seasoning adds a distinctive, yet delicious flavor to this classic winter staple. We know these meals are pretty hardy, which is why we love having the option to pause our subscription or cancel a week when need be.

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Smokey Mild Chorizo & Bean Chilli

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Travel Tips

8 of the Best Donut Spots In the United States

Celebrate National Donut Day with our favorite treats across the country.

November 5th marks one of 2020's two National Donut Days.

Occurring in both June and November, National Donut Day allows fans of those delectable yeasty treats to embrace their sweet tooth. But like any niche food group, people often take their donuts very, very seriously, and there are countless places to get your fix.

Below, we've rounded up some of the best donut spots across the country. From coast to coast, these bakeries are sure to impress even the pickiest donut-heads.

Mr. T.'s Delicate Donut Shop – Modesto, CA

Mr. T.'s Delicate Donut Shop

If you ever find yourself in the San Francisco Bay Area, it's worth taking a short trek out east towards Modesto for some of California's best donuts. Mr. T.'s Delicate Donut Shop has remained family owned since its opening over 30 years ago, providing both tried-and-true classic donuts as well as experimental flavors and holiday specials. Even their 24-hour service doesn't diminish the line that trails out the door most mornings.

Dough — New York, NY

Dough \u2014 New York, NY

Donuts might not be the first circular, doughy treat you think of when it comes to New York City. If you've had your fair share of bagels, the Big Apple also boasts some spectacular donuts at Dough, a go-to spot for both tourists and locals alike. Here, you'll find a host of Latin American-inspired flavors that are hard to come by anywhere else; their Dulce de Leche flavor is a customer favorite, while the tangy Hibiscus donut is just as good for Instagramming as it is for eating.

Blackbird Doughnuts — Boston, MA

Blackbird Doughnuts \u2014 Boston, MA

Boston's Blackbird Doughnuts is a no-frills donut spot specializing in both brioche "raised" donuts and old-fashioned cake donuts. With a small menu of year-round donuts and a rotating cast of seasonal flavors, Blackbird keeps it simple and classic. Why mess around?

Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop — Brooklyn, NY

Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop \u2014 Brooklyn, NY

For over 60 years, Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop has been calling the quaint Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint home. Since then, the bakery has remained a popular spot for both regulars and new visitors passing through the area. Here, you won't find uber-trendy decor or gimmicky recipes, just damn good donuts that prove the power of long-standing local businesses.

Pip’s Original — Portland, OR

Pip\u2019s Original \u2014 Portland, OR

In both their mobile catering van and brick-and-mortar locations, Pip's Original is a staple for small, sweet treats in Portland. They're known for their tiny donuts that come in inventive seasonal flavors like marionberry-lavender and mango ghost pepper. But even if you opt for one of the more traditional flavors, Pip's Original proves good things can come in small packages.

Round Rock Donuts — Round Rock, TX

Round Rock Donuts \u2014 Round Rock, TX

Founded in 1926, Round Rock Donuts—located just north of Austin—are impossible to miss. These donuts' distinct yellow-orange color, caused by fresh eggs in the original recipe, make them stand out among the crowd. While this classic outpost can easily churn out hundreds of dozens of donuts a day, they also offer Texas-Sized Donuts, which are just as ginormous as you'd imagine. Round Rock Donuts are not only delicious and easily recognizable, but they're a slice of Lone Star history.

The Holy Donut — Portland, ME

The Holy Donut \u2014 Portland, ME

In Maine's Portland, you might not find tiny donuts or a decked-out catering van, but you will find a slightly healthier alternative. The Holy Donut was founded on the premise of creating tasty donuts that used all-natural ingredients to make a treat you could feel good about eating. The secret ingredient is fresh, mashed Maine potatoes, which make these donuts delectably moist without sacrificing flavor.

Donut Friend — Los Angeles, CA

Donut Friend \u2014 Los Angeles, CA

As expected of a city so focused on entertainment, Los Angeles' Donut Friend puts an edgy spin on their inventive donut flavors. Their year-round menu features donut flavors with names like Green Teagan and Sara, Fudgegazi, and Bacon-182 that are sure to delight the rock music nerds. For everyone else, the delicious donuts speak for themselves.